Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Our Fall Retreat

I apologize for not posting earlier. I needed some time to debrief and evaluate.

I believe the retreat went very well overall. It was tiring and challenging, but good. One of my main goals was that the students would be able to build relationships with one another and that we (staff) would be able to connect with each of them on a deeper level. God graciously permitted that to occur! I feel like I know the students so much better, and knowing them is vital to being able to minister to them.

There were a lot of challenges, but I was amazed again by God's faithfulness in bringing about good things in the midst of the hard times. For some reason this group of students seemed to be particularly cruel to one another at times. But there were at least two different instances when a student's feelings were hurt by someone else and then several other students showed care and concern for the hurt person. I loved watching them show love to one another as they sympathized and cheered each other up. It was so beautiful! One evening we were worshipping together and some of the students were being rude and distracting, which led me to believe that they were not really interested in worshipping. But when I stopped playing, they apologized for talking and kept requesting songs for another 20 minutes!

I was struck (once again) with the fact that all of my planning and preparing really has very little to do with the good things that will happen. God was faithful to work in the hearts of these kids through their peers as well as (and some times in spite of) the leaders. I pray that the times when we loved the kids well they would see the love God has for him and that the times when we were impatient they would see as our own human weakness.

Please continue to pray for the group, which has changed significantly over the past two months. We have increased in size (basically doubled), and shifted to a much younger average age. We are also seeing more students from broken homes and unchurched homes. I feel that our group (despite being located in Gresham) has become an urban ministry. I'm pretty sure that urban ministry should look different than suburban ministry, but I haven't figured out yet how best to minister to this different group of kids with different problems, hurts and needs. If you have any ideas, feel free to let me know. In the mean time, join me in praying that God would continue to draw students to himself.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Only God Can Do It

Wow, I guess technically it's Friday now which means that we leave on our youth retreat this afternoon. I've got so many things left to do to prepare--and one of them is to sleep, so I'll make this short.

Although tonight we had a record-breaking number of students at youth group, we have pretty low attendance on the retreat due to (a) it being near the hollidays and (b)all the older kids being afraid to sign up because they didn't know yet if their friends could attend. Consequently we're taking a small group, but it will be very young and very new (1/3 are students who I have never met or met only once or twice). We're not sure what to expect, really, but I keep seeing God's hand in preparing things for which I could not have planned. He obviously made room for each student he wanted to attend. I'm trusting he has a purpose and praying that he uses this weekend as a tool to draw people closer to himself--which is something that I cannot facilitate no matter how prepared I am. Only God can work in people's hearts, so pray that he does this weekend.

Please also pray for: safety, growth, kindness (students), patience and wisdom(staff), and plenty of fun. I'll let you know how it goes!

Thanks, Kristi

Friday, November 10, 2006


I am so thankful for people--more specifically for true fellowship. Tonight was one of those nights at youth group where everything went crazy beforehand, and just when I thought I had stabilized, the kids showed up and everything went beyond crazy. It wasn't the greatest night. I lost my patience. I lacked love. I found myself unable to see the kids the way God sees them. If I had come home to an empty apartment, I know just what would have happened: I would have put on my mix CD with songs for hurting and healing, turned off the lights and curled up on the couch with my face pressed against it and cried--probably until I fell asleep clinging to the back of the couch.

My melancholy plans for the evening were thwarted by my friend Jessica's simple request at the end of youth group, "Can I come over afterward and pray?" Ah, what an idea! Of course, my tear-stained evening would have included prayers, but they would have been the borderline accusatory prayers that come when I'm exhausted and at the end of my rope, uncertain what to do and feeling all alone. Instead, Jessica came over and we debriefed for a couple hours, and then just prayed (along with my roommate Nikki, who had come home by then). There was something so beautiful about our fellowship tonight. Sharing frustrations, heartache, disallusionment, hopes, goals, insights, and then in the end coming humbly before God confessing our inadequacies and entrusting to him the hearts of the students we serve. Now I have peace. I don't feel great, or enlightened, just at peace.

And I am so thankful for the godly women whose friendships have enriched my life and whose hearts have both inspired and challenged me. God has been so good to bless me with wonderful friends.

Saturday, November 4, 2006


Hi everyone!

So...pretty big news. It's looking promising that I will finally get to be an auntie! Trisha & Mark are in the process of trying to adopt their two-year-old nephew, Gavin. Yesterday Gavin's mother signed the papers releasing parental rights. His father has indicated that he is willing to do the same, although he is currently out of the country. Anyway, this is very exciting news for Mark and Trisha who are eagerly rearranging their lives and schedules to become parents! It's also exciting news for me, as I have been hoping for someone to spoil for quite some time now!

The other exciting news is...my little sister is getting married! Bethany is now officially engaged to be married to Chris Storlie (Sorry, Chris for posting your name on MySpace.). They haven't yet settled on a date for the wedding, but I'm guessing it will be in the first few months of 2007. This is exciting two-fold as well! (1) We are all extremely happy for the young couple, they are both so awesome! (2) I get to help coordinate the wedding details, which will hopefully relieve stress from Bethy as well as be fun for me! (For some reason, I like all that planning stuff.)

Well...nothing really is going on in MY life, so to speak. But I'm pretty stoked for my siblings, whose lives seem to be growing in enrichment by leaps and bounds!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ping Pong Faithfulness

Each Wednesday I meet with Eric to talk about youth group stuff. Today we were talking about what sorts of activities we could include at our all-nighter that would be boy-friendly. Eric mentioned how he thought it would be really cool to get a ping pong table for the church. "Yeah," I agreed, "but I don't think we have room in our budget for that." I was at my desk, so I decided to check craigslist real quick, and guess what!? There was a ping pong table that had been listed last night! It was just the table top, but it was going for $10 and we figured we could set it on top of a table at church and buy a net and some paddles for it. I called and the woman said it was still there, so we tromped off to pick up my parents' van so we could haul the tabletop. On the way I was thinking how cool it was that just when we were thinking of buying one, someone had listed one so cheap. Sometimes I laugh when I think people "overspiritualize" things. But I'm afraid that sometimes I "underspiritualize" and neglect to give God credit for being faithful in bringing about small blessings in the details of our lives.

Lest I somehow doubt God's role in providing the ping pong table, when we got there I told them how excited I was to get a table for our youth group and they decided to give it to us for free! As we're pulling out of the driveway, they flagged us back down and handed us a net and two paddles that they had found under a pile of stuff in the garage! Then, we get back to the church, and just happened to stumble across more paddles! LOL. It was crazy the way that in a period of an hour and a half, God gave us a free ping pong table, complete with net and paddles! He is so faithful to bless us--even in the silly little details of our lives--and I'm determined to give him the credit for his provision.

Thursday, October 5, 2006


Not terribly profound. But the other day I was reading in Luke 12, where Jesus points out that the ravens don't sow or reap, but God provides for them. Then he says the most beautiful thing: "How much more valuable you are than birds!" Even with my selfishness and my pride, even seeing my past mistakes as well as the ones I've yet to make, despite the ugliness of my heart...the God who designed me, loved me and died for me calls me into relationship with him. Wow. And being precious to the Creator & King of all--that makes me highly valuable.

And so are you. Okay, so you probably already knew all this, but on a week when I felt especially undesirable it made me glow a little to know that I, plain ol' Kristi, am valuable to God.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Gluelympics 2006

Today we had our Gluelympics event! We had a couple new students which is exciting. And a whole bunch of our incoming 6th graders came and had a blast. It was seriously a lot of fun. We had crazy competitions in track and field events, team competition events and water events. Perhaps my favorite of the day was the "Turkeyput" (like shotput only with a raw 11.5 lb turkey!). Sorry...I wish I had more pictures to show, but I was too busy most of the time to turn on the camera.

Join me in thanking the Lord for gorgeous 77 degree weather, for an injury free afternoon and for the kids having fun together! I need to get to bed now, I'm teaching Sunday School tomorrow. But I just wanted to post up these pics from today. The flags were so cool! And the winning team receive a beautiful golden cup (sorry, no pics of it--but it was awesome!).

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Ministry Roller-Coaster

We're in the midst of preparing for our school-year kickoff for Glue (our youth group). We took the last three weeks off of youth group, and due to camping trips, etc., I hadn't seen some of the kids for a while. But yesterday and today I saw a lot of them, and it was a great example of the roller coaster that is youth ministry.

Yesterday the rollercoaster plummetted downward. At 11:00 AM I caught some kids smoking behind the church. At 12:00 PM one of my students shared with me about a drinking binge last week that ended with a trip to the hospital due to possible alcohol poisoning. But it was at 1:00 PM that the cops, fire truck and paramedics showed up. One of the students had been involved in a domestic dispute (thank God for divine protection--no one needed to go to the hospital). Yesterday left me on my face before God begging him to protect these students and to preserve them and draw them into close fellowship with himself.

Today the rollercoaster soared skyward. I took three of the core students with leadership abilities out to lunch to talk about ideas for the upcoming year. Among other things, they told me they wanted to (1) memorize more verses and hold one another accountable to applying them to their lives, (2) be involved in consistent service projects, and (3) perhaps go on a mission trip. Then one of them said that before they went on a mission trip, she thought that they should "practice" by hosting a student-led 5-day Bible club in a local neighborhood where the students would plan the games and teach the lessons. I was so encouraged! They also agreed to take on some responsibilities at the weekly meetings, which will help them grow and gain a greater sense of ownership of the youth group. My heart can't stop grinning (if hearts can grin). Today left me raising my hands to the Lord and thanking him for working in the lives of these young people, and for giving me the privilege of serving them.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Jr. High Girls Camp 2006!!!

It's all over. We spent months and months planning and praying and preparing, and in one [relatively] short week, it was over!

It was a hard week--especially the first few days. There was actually a lot of controversy over the Hot Topics (our evening chapels were dedicated to addressing things like Friends & Gossip, Depression & Suicide, Media, Relationships, Beauty & Body Image). People wondered if the girls were too young or the topics too deep, if the presenters were experienced enough, if the counselors were old enough to handle tough questions, if the camp was sufficiently equipped to provide assistance to any girls who needed serious help. By the end of the first couple days, I was so nervous I had a giant knot in my stomach. But Amber and I felt that the Lord was leading us to address the tough issues directly, so we pushed on.

And I am so glad that we did! At the Friday campfire girl after girl shared about how they had been challenged and encouraged by the Hot Topics. It was such a blessing! I'm so glad we followed God's leading instead of giving up when things got difficult.

Anyway, I'm home now. I'm going through camp-withdrawl. My apartment seems so empty and lonely this week. But Amber & Andrew have been kind enough to frequently include me in their family activities. So I'm okay. :-) Plus I have Jesus, so I'm really okay.

Thank you, Lord for an awesome week. You worked things together that we could never have done. Help the girls to continue to grow and seek you throughout the year. Amen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Last week I had an anniversary of sorts.

The summer of 1996 was a turning point in my life. I served on STAR Staff at Eagle Fern Camp, and for the first time began to love studying the Word, thus increasing my love for the Author. I committed to seeking him with my life. I was young, only 14, and I was immature--but I longed to grow. I remember that there was a particular moment the third week I was out there where I was cleaning a toilet (of all things!) and I wondered where I would be in ten years. I laughed to myself thinking, "Yeah right...as if in ten years I'll even remember thinking this!" Amazingly, because I thought I would forget--I never did. That was 10 years and 4ish days ago.

So...the question to ask is, what would that 14-year-old self think of me now? Would she be disappointed? Proud? Excited? Worried? My guess is that she would have mixed emotions.

She would probably be disappointed that she hadn't lost weight (isn't every year the year that's supposed to happen!). She would probably be disappointed by and worried about still being single, wondering what in the world is wrong with her. ;-)

She would probably be proud to have finished college--and utterly amazed at having a job as a FEMALE youth pastor at CASCADE (those of you who have known me long know what a miracle that is in and of itself). But I think she would have been excited about the prospect of doing ministry vocationally--being able to pour time into knowing, loving and encouraging youth. I think she would be surprised at feeling comfortable preaching to youth on a regular basis. She would be happy about being able to play the guitar--regardless of the skills I still feel I lack.

She would feel comforted to know that some close friends still remained, and saddened by the distancing of others that used to be close. She would be disappointed in the choices some friends had made in their lives, but be impressed by the responsibility and wisdom shown by others.

I think she would be encouraged by her spiritual growth--although she might be surprised that her future self often feels as immature and inadequate as she did at 14.

She would be pleased with her improved relationship with her parents and siblings. She would be delighted at the prospect of getting to go so many places and experience so many new things. She would be excited about future summers serving at EFC--especially those as a director. She would probably be proud of having written songs (despite their musically crude nature), and of experiencing the privilege of preaching the gospel to groups here and abroad.

She might be disappointed at never having written a book. She would be disappointed at the disproportionate number of people she has led to the Lord compared with those she has shared the gospel with. She would be disheartened to see some of the mistakes she has made, and by the sins she continues to struggle with. She would be frustrated at herself for allowing her fears to keep her from doing and experiencing things--and from taking advantage of dental coverage paid for by her parents! :-)

She would dread the difficult experiences to come: the falling apart of the youth group that was dear to her heart at 14, the struggles with anger and depression after a car accident, the stress of strange, international quasi-relationships, the the worry of losing the first job she enjoyed, the loss of a sense of security when her car is stolen and her apartment is broken into, and the helplessness of watching loved ones experience heart-wrenching loss.

But she would be comforted to know that through it all, her Savior has proved faithful as her Protector, Provider, Comforter, Sustainer, Friend and Father. And that although, she will have experienced times of spiritual drought, she would also fall more in love with him in times of spiritual rejuvenation. She would be happy to know that not only is he all that matters, but that he is enough to satisfy her. And that on the nights that she feels lonely and melancholy in the darkness, he will hold her while she cries and infuse her with hope and peace and strength.

So here I am. It's my ten-year anniversary of wondering what the next ten years would hold. There are so many things that have changed, but also some that have remained the same. I am so thankful that God is faithful to complete the good work he starts in each one of us. I'm not complete yet, but I am ten years closer. And I guess that's a good place to be. I'm also thankful for for the peace I have. I'm confident that right now I'm exactly where God wants me to be. And I'm excited to see what the next ten years might bring!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Is Sacrificial Love Safe?

The last two nights in a row there have been crazy people outside my apartment that have made me feel uncomfortable enough to sleep with my revolver next to me. Last night two people knocked on my door at 1:30am asking to use my phone! I didn't even open the door, just yelled sorry through the peephole. I feel kind of bad about that. I hope they are okay. It's hard to balance sacrificial love for people with common sense safety rules.

As Christians, we're commanded to show love to people--but so often my service of people is inhibited by these safety rules ingrained in me by my parents and society at large: don't pick up hitchhikers, never give cash to panhandlers (but food is okay), don't bring home homeless people to sleep on the couch, don't open the door to strangers or allow them into your home, don't let strangers into the church while you're there alone. There are a lot of safety rules!

On Thursday this guy showed up at the church and asked to come in and talk with me. I explained that it was against church policy for me to let anyone inside the church while I was there alone, then I went out on the porch to talk to him. To make his long story short, him and his wife were stranded with no money to get back to their home near Seattle. After calling the treasurer, I had to explain to the man that our church doesn't help out with transportation. He sat down on the porch and began to cry. He'd been walking around town all day going to churches and social service agencies but no one would help. It took me an hour, but I was able to find a friend who could drive the guy to get his wife and take them to the bus station (I couldn't leave because youth group was starting soon). So this guy was hungry and tired and waiting for my friend to show up, and I wasn't supposed to let him into the church for "safety" (mine? the church's?). So, I ended up hauling an easychair from the library out onto the porch. The neighbors probably thought it was strange seeing a tired, disheveled man sitting in a pink floral easy chair on the porch of the church--but at least he was able to rest his feet!

Anyway...I'm so confused about safety. When Jesus hung out with theives and prostitutes, was he taking some sort of safety precautions of which I'm merely unaware? Or could he have been more concerned about ministering to lost and hurting (and even dangerous?) souls than in procuring the safety of his person or posessions?

So those of you with families are probably thinking--but I have an obligation to keep my family safe! That's probably true, I guess. I'm just not sure where it says it in the Bible. Please tell me if you can think of a place. Was Jesus showing disregard for the safety of his disciples when he led them to minister among vagrants?

Oughtn't we love people in obedience to God and trust him to keep us safe? Of course, I suppose someone could say that buckling seatbelts or taking antibiotics is showing a lack of trust in God. So balance. Where's the proper balance? If you have any ideas, please respond! I just don't know. But despite all my love-talk, I'm still going to bed next to my .38 revolver.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Memorial Day Trip 2006

So, I went to the beach with my book club over Memorial Day weekend. It was a blast, of course--the book club consists of several of my closest friends, so that was a delightful time. It was rainy and nasty through Sunday, but Monday was beautiful and we made it to the top of Mt. Hebo, which I think is my very favorite place in the whole world. Here are a few pictures from the trip.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I have a problem with controlling my reactions. I tend to stress out whenever anything goes wrong. Afterwards I always think, "Lord, I don't want to freak out at the slightest sign of adversity. Teach me to respond with patience and peace and trust in you and what you're doing in my life."

So, here is some of the stuff that happened this week and how I responded:

- Toilet oveflowed and flooded church bathroom at wedding shower--hahaha.
- Parent of youth complained to my supervisor at work--no problem.
- Housing situation suddenly became uncertain and stressful--oh no!
- Lost grocery list for weekend getaway and had to improvise--grrrr.
- Downpour drenched me and caused me to hammer my finger--OW!!!
- Groceries for beach trip got stuck in my stupid trunk--RAWWWRR!
- Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic (only 12 miles in 1 1/2 hours)--whatever.
- Received my first traffic citation ($242.00 for speeding in passing lane)--perfect end to this day!

So, in a week's time I cheerfully cleaned up an inch of urine and toilet water, kept cool while receiving criticism, felt uncertain about housing stuff, got irritated over losing a grocery list, blew up over hammering my finger, seethed over locked groceries, tolerated terrible traffic and recieved my first ticked with an ironic grin. So...a couple times I responded well...but there's still a lot of room for improvement. What really stinks, is that I think the only way to get better at this is to keep practicing (which requires more adverse situations).

Sunday, May 7, 2006

May I Please Have A Redo?

Have you ever had one of those days? You know, where at the end of it you look back and wish you could do it over again? Today was one of those days.

Someone did something that frustrated me, because it seemed irresponsible. My first reaction was anger. And annoyance. So, when I saw the person I felt the need to let them know how disappointed I was in them. I think my exact words were, "You are so dead."

The thing was, the person knew they'd messed up and already felt bad about it. So I'm wondering why I felt the need to "punish" them with my attitude. That's not the sort of person I want to be.

I want to be the sort of person who can say, "Oops, you goofed...how can I help you fix it?" The sort of person who encourages and affirms people rather than tears them down.

So I apologized. And then I asked God for a redo. I mean, not that the day can happen over again, but that the next time someone around me messes up, I will be able to respond with grace and love--as is befitting of someone who is so in need of God's love and grace to cover over all of my own mistakes. Like how I goofed on my attitude today.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Of Mice and Women

When my cousin and I arrived at the beach, we were surprised to find the cabin already inhabited! In the kitchen, one of the cupboards was littered with tiny poop pellets and strewn with remnants of chewed on popcorn and hot cocoa. Yuck! We purchased some poison blocks and placed them strategically throughout the cabin--except of course in the room we were sleeping in. We just shut the door to keep any prowling rodents from our sleeping sanctuary. Tucked into bed with the heater on and a wall between us and the mice we felt cozy and secure.

The next morning, we felt even better. The poison had been a success! 4 of the 6 blocks of poison were completely gone. The second night no more poison was consumed, so we sighed in relief, assured that we had effectively rid ourselves of the mouse population. That is, until the last day. As we were getting ready to leave, I opened up a dresser drawer that had extra towels in it and was horrified to see a 5-inch "giant mouse" scurry out and into the closet (I later learned that 5-inch mice dont exist--it was a rat!) Eww! To make a long story (and a 15 minute home video) short, we never captured the rat despite a quite-desperate hunt that involved moving furniture and poking into corners with a broom. What we did find was a nest of squirming, squeaking newborn baby "mice" in a drawer of towels that was less than three feet from where we had been sleeping!

They were just a couple days old with hardly any hair and unopened eyes. We didn't know what to do! It's one thing to poison nameless, faceless mice but quite another to harm these defenseless babies with teensy little whiskers and claws. But the fact remained that baby rodents grow to be adult rodents who in turn make more baby rodents. We didn't want to hurt them (they were kinda' cute afterall), but we certainly did not want them infesting the cabin. I considered bringing them home for pets, but we figured by this time there was already a good chance they'd been poisoned by their mama's milk. So we hauled them out to the empty lot next to the cabin and piled them up together for warmth under brush that we hoped would keep them hidden from predators.
The funny thing is, it was hard for me to leave them there. Even having seen what their relatives and friends had done to our food cupboard, I couldn't help but want to root for them. They seemed so little and harmless!

Kind of like our sin.

Just like the pellet-strewn food cupboard, sometimes we can see the destructive results of our sin. It's stinky and messy and repulsive, and so we work to get rid of the bad habits or unloving attitudes or the proud self-reliance that has gotten us into the predicament in which we find ourselves when we try to do things our way instead of God's way. But sometimes our bad actions or attitudes seem harmless--or even desirable. Maybe it's attractive to us, like that relationship that we don't want to let go of even though we know that it inhibits our walk with God. Or maybe it seems so small that we don't think it can really do any harm--like when we ignore a source of temptation in our life or when we vent our frustrations about one friend to another.

But the Bible says that baby sins grow into rat-sized sins. "Each person is tempted when they are lured away and enticed by their own evil desires. And after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. When sin is full-grown, it produces death" (James 1:14-15). Sin is a serious business. All of us has a problem with it. We've all sinned and we all deserve spiritual death (separation from God). Jesus offered to pay that debt for us by giving up his own life, and if we've accepted that substitutionary gift from him, we don't have to worry about eternal separation from God. But there are still immediate consequences to sin. God made us, and he has given us an instruction manual on how we'll work best (just like I have a manual for my Camry). When we go against his instructions, things break down in our life. That's why he wants us to follow the instructions in the first place! He made us and he knows what's best for us. I'd be crazy to fill up my Camry's tank with maple syrup. Think of the mess! So why do I think that I can choose my own way to live without making a mess of my life?

So here I am again. I'm in that place where I'm evaluating my heart and trying to root out those "cute, little" sins. You know, the ones I thought were too small to make much of a mess. Self-reliance is there. And pride. And harsh judgmentalness. Selfishness, apathy. How did those sneak back in there, again!? Whew! Who knew my soul would be so full of vermin! I think I better go have a talk with the wonderful, merciful Exterminator!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Quickie

Tonight at youth group we were preparing a skit for an event next week. The skit shows the two extremes of looking for God's guidance. It contrasts a girl who imagines "signs" from God every ten minutes with a girl who cannot perceive God's leading even when it's obvious. I was impressed by the students' acting abilities. I think the skit will be good!

In other local news...I finally washed my car today. It's so shiny and clean it makes me want to hug it (okay, I did hug it--but only once). Now I'm all set for going to the beach with my awesome cousin, Sheila, tomorrow. HOORAY! See you all next week.

P.S. Please pray for three parents of students in the youth group. I'll use initials for privacy. (1) L. has recently had two strokes and next week is having a test to determine if he needs open-heart surgery. (2) Meanwhile, L.'s wife C. is having a biopsy to determine if she has skin cancer. (3) B is having vision problems, underwent an MRI and then was called in to see the doctor earlier tonight. Thanks for your prayers.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sadly, It's true. I'm emotional.

Sometimes I wish I didn't have emotions. I like to pretend that Im in control of myself and my world and for some reason, emotions sometimes seem beyond that control. The last couple weeks I have been very emotional...but not for any particular reason. Sometimes it's a small twinge of compassion. But other times it's much stronger.

One night recently I could not get to sleep for several hours. I was laying in bed and I was praying for everyone I could think to pray for: my family, my friends, my church, each of the students in the youth group. As I was praying, I became overwhelmed by the amount of pain and hurt in this world, and my heart ached for those I knew who were experiencing deep trials and pain. Suddenly, I was imagining the masses of the world and seeing all the suffering and hurting and my heart just broke. I trust in Jesus to comfort me through my pain--but so many people have not experienced the peace and hope and joy found only in a relationship with Jesus. I longed for them to know him. I found myself weeping for these souls of humanity--each one individually unique and precious, each one with their own story of love and life and pain. It was perhaps the closest I've ever come to seeing the world the way Jesus sees them.

In Matthew 9, Jesus looks at the crowds of people following him and he has compassion on them. He compares them to helpless sheep, wandering around aimless and shepherdless, not realizing that the Good Shepherd longs to lead them to green pastures if they would only FOLLOW HIM. Jesus realizes that the people are ripe for the message and he asks his disciples to pray for willing workers to go out to the people. And a few verses later, he sends them!

I want to be a willing worker, too! I want people to experience the fulfillment of a relationship with Jesus. So, I'm praying for boldness to tell them. But that's scary for me, because I know it's an unpopular thing to do. Today on the radio a local talk show host was talking about how he was a Christian who believed the Bible but that he did NOT believe in pushing his faith on others. He stated that he was anti-proselytization.

This seems to be a fairly common stance. People say, "I'm glad what you believe works for you, but you have no right to try to convince anyone else of what you believe. That is so arrogant of you." Is it? Is it arrogance that compels me to share with others? I remember a quote purportedly from an article written by an atheist who said:

"If I firmly believed, as millions say they do, that the knowledge and practice of religion in this life influence destiny in another life, then religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly cares as folly, and earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. God would be my first waking thought and my last image before falling asleep. I would labor in his cause alone. I would hardly stop thinking of my future eternity. I would regard the saving of one soul worth a life of suffering; earthly consequences would never prevent me from acting or speaking out to accomplish this. The griefs of life would occupy hardly a moment of my thoughts. I would go forth to the world and preach this message in season and out of season, and my scripture text would be: What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? All of this would overwhelmingly preoccupy me--that is, if I believed!"*

If I truly believe what I claim to believe, how can I not tell others? It's not arrogance to do so--its callous indifference not to do so. That doesn't mean that I don't respect other people's freedom to choose. If God grants us freedom to accept or reject him, I certainly am not going to try to trick or cajole anyone into a relationship with him. Just the other week I was talking with two eighth grade boys who had gone through their fair share of hard times. I asked one of them if he knew about Jesus and he told me, "Oh yes. I've heard all I want to about Jesus. I'm sick of it. I hear it all the time and I dont want to talk about it any more." Ouch. That made me sad. I was sad for him. But I respected his wishes; I didnt press the matter. I prayed that his heart would be changed, because I'm convinced that ultimately lasting happiness for him can only be found in Jesus.

Individuals all around the world are hurting. I can't help feeling emotional about it. I want to make sure that those in my life have the opportunity to choose to turn to Jesus. Whether they do or not--that's between them and him.

* I've tried to research who wrote this article, but the information is fairly cyclical. Ultimately, I was unable to determine the original atheist author. It is thus possible that it was actually penned by the first person to "quote" it. Although that's not as cool of a story, it doesn't make the quote any less convicting. The text I have included was compiled from two sources: (1) Rev. John H. Hampsch, C.M.F., Coping with Lifes Dark Moments, (Queenship Publishing: Goleta, CA, 1998). (2) K.P. Yohannan, Revolution in World Missions, (Carrolton, TX: GFA Books, 1986-2004) p. 95-96.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"I'm too young to be skunked!"

The August sky was full of shooting stars as the meteor shower reached its peak. It was the summer before my senior year of college and I was working at a camp. A group of us had hauled mattresses and sleeping bags up to the top of a hill to sleep in a graveled clearing where we had a great view of the stars. I drifted off to sleep around 1:30 but was rudely awakened by my friend's urgent whisper, "Guys...there's a SKUNK!"

At first I thought it was a practical joke, but as my senses awakened one by one, my nose began to smell that pervasive skunky odor. By the time I slowly sat up and looked around, the skunk had wandered off into the underbrush. Someone had seen it rub against some of our bedding, so we sat vigilantly guarding our stuff for a while. Nothing happened. After a while my heart stopped pounding and I was able to lay back down. My groggy mind slowly developed a defense plan. I scrunched down, almost completely submerging myself in my sleeping bag. But I left one arm out, with a hand tucked underneath the mattress so that at the slightest spray, I could flip upside down, pulling the mattress on top of me to shield me from the toxic skunkations. Someone heard rustling in the bushes and I tensed up, preparing to fling the mattress over my head in one swift motion. Nothing happened.

You know how your mind kind of wanders when you're half-asleep, so that you see things played out in your mind as you think about them? Well, in my sleepy state I saw myself sprayed by this horrible beast. I imagined myself returning back to school in 3 weeks and sitting in the back of the classroom with empty seats all around me, people sitting up front trying not to gag from the stench. No one would be able to conentrate when I was nearby. My classmates would despise me. How could this happen to me now? How would I be able to live a normal life when I radiated skunk?! My imagination found the connection to my vocal chords and suddenly my friends were awakened by my frantic shriek, "I'M TOO YOUNG TO BE SKUNKED!"

It's funny how I always seem to think that bad things shouldn't happen to me. When everything goes great in life, that's normal. Of course. That's what I expect. But when problems come, suddenly I'm wailing and lamenting and wondering, "why is this happening to me? I shouldn't have to deal with this!" Or worse, I begin to question God's goodness.

Recently my cousins' families were struck with some pretty hard blows. Two babies were lost during pregnancy, and one four year old boy* was diagnosed with leukemia. I've been so impressed by my cousins' reactions to these tragedies. They've chosen to echo the words of Job, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." My cousins' response was not to accuse God of being injust, but rather to trust in his good and loving plan for their lives and the lives of their children. And their response made me think.

Why is it that I'm so quick to argue with God? No Lord, I'm too young to be skunked. It's so clear in the Bible that God uses adversity to strengthen us, to build our character, to infuse us with hope. When I look back on my life I see that the times I grew the most were hard times. So why do I make plans to avoid adversity at all costs? I'm running through life with one hand tucked under the mattress, ready to reatreat at the first sign of trouble. But that's not a biblical response to suffering. If I trust in God's goodness and power, and truly believe that his plan for my life is for the best, then I should welcome hardships as an opportunity to grow and become more like Jesus. Just as God took the ugliness of a torturous cross and turned it into something beautiful when Jesus love was demonstrated upon it, so God can take the ugliness of our weakness and suffering and make them beautiful when his strength and beauty shine through them.

So, I've been praying that God would help me to receive adversity joyfully, when it comes. (No rush, though, Lord!) I'm confident that God will only give me what I can handle, and that it will be for my best. At least that's how I feel today. But just wait 'till the next skunk wanders into camp.

*If you want to know how you can pray for my cousin's son, Connor, check out his website at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/connorratzlaff.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

What's Up With Me (Plus: A Word About Success)

Okay, so to start off my blog I figured it'd be good to talk a little bit about what I'm up to these days.

I graduated from Multnomah in December 2004 and was incredibly surprised by a job offer from my church. I was hired to fulfill two part time positions: (1) Administrative Assistant, and (2) Youth Director. I've now been at my job for a year and a quarter, and I'm still loving it! I mean, to be honest, the administrative stuff is fine--but it doesn't really get me super pumped. It's just stuff that needs to be done that I happen to be able to do. But the youth part is awesome! I love being paid to hang out with students and tell them about Jesus and challenge them to grow in their faith. What a privilege! I'm so blessed by my job.

Not to say that it's all perfect. Last fall I was feeling very discouraged because I felt like my labor was producing very little fruit. I felt like such a failure, and like everyone at the church must resent me because they were paying my salary--and for what? I wasn't "producing results."

But, God worked in my heart and taught me a very important lesson about success. He showed me how in Scripture he sometimes called the prophets to lives of "fruitless" ministries--as in preaching to a people whose hearts would remain hard and unrepentant. God didn't tell Isaiah or Jeremiah to preach harder, he told them to turn to him for their affirmation and protection. God also reminded me of the people who had worked diligently to plant spiritual seeds in my life, but never got to see the fruit borne from their seeds. I now realize that spiritual success looks different from the way our culture views success. The world tells us that success is measured effectiveness: making a lot of money or getting a lot of followers. But a successful servant of God is one who obediently follows him, regardless of immediate results. We can trust that since God is sovereign, his plan is bigger than ours, and his plan may involve building our charater through "failure," or it may involve bringing fruit from our labor at a much later time.

And since then, God has graciously given me affirmation that I am indeed where he wants me right now, and that he is able to use me for his glory when I submit myself to him.

Let's see...oh, I started attending what I affectionately refer to as "The Grandma's Bible Study" at my church. That would be the Ladie's study that meets on Tuesday mornings and is attended by my mom, myself and 8 grandmas (2 great-grandmas!). Since it started though one other woman my age has also joined, so I guess we're getting slightly more mixed! But recently, I have undertaken to lead this study, and we're going through a book I love, The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert E. Coleman. It's an awesome book about how we can apply to our lives the disciple-making principles that Jesus used in his ministry. But preparing the study guide each week and facilitating the discussion has proved challenging. It has been a great way to build relationships with the women in the church, though.

Last year I had the privilege of directing Jr. High Girls week of camp at Eagle Fern Camp in Estacada, Oregon. That was awesome, and my wonderful friend, Amber, and I are directing once again this year.

That's pretty much what I'm up to. I love to hang out with my family, too. They're only a few minutes from my place, so that's cool. And I'm living with my good friend since childhood, Nikki. We get along well, and I enjoy having her here. I think that should be enough of an update for now.